Thursday, March 08, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 411 - March 8

March 8, 3:20 p.m.

Two good Daily Iowan pieces on local issues (school board and jail), and State29 weighs in on "the revenue is needed" by the UI Athletic Department.

More "Revenue is Needed"

Yesterday I commented on the Athletic Department's justification of its partnerships with the gambling industry: "revenue is needed." I wrote: "Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole."

To my list of additional profit possibilities when "revenue is needed" State29 has added the suggestion that the Athletic Department -- like ESPN -- simply declare poker to be a sport, and then sponsor and profit from these poker athletic contests held, perhaps, at the Riverside Gambling Casino. State29, "Revenue is Kneaded," March 7, 2007.

In the "be careful what you wish for" department . . .

. . . the Daily Iowan editorializes this morning about the challenges confronting the Iowa City Community School District School Board with its new-found 20% sales tax hike money: $104 million. Having sold the voters on how essential the money is, the Board has had to hire a consultant to tell it why, and just what it ought to be doing with its new riches.

Its first purchase does not bode well. A toolshed for Northwest Junior High, already a little expensive at $40,000 (substantially in excess of what homes cost in Iowa City when I was a boy), is now going to cost 50% more: $59,378. Why? The DI reports "because the architects 'forgot' a part in the estimate." As Senator Dirksen might have said, "A 50% overrun here, and a 50% overrun there, and pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money." Editorial, "School Board Must Swiftly Address Budget Concerns, Accountability," The Daily Iowan, March 8. 2007.

Prison Alternatives

Prisons have become our nation's primary public housing program, and treatment centers (though little or no treatment is offered) for the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug addicts. As a result, guess what? The prisons are overcrowded. And the first solution that pops to mind? Build new and bigger prisons.

Now I am probably a lot more willing than most to advocate increasing taxes to cover the really essential social programs that constitute a humane and civilized society. But I'm also pretty tough when it comes to spending money -- mine or the taxpayers -- with regard to exploring all options. After all, I was raised with the Depression-Era motto, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I even offered a proposal that would have provided a better quality education for our school district's kids without the need for any of that last $40 million bond issue.

So I've been blogging about possible alternatives to expanding the Johnson County Jail. As a result, wiser folks than I have been explaining to me (in comments on those blog entries) that we really have run out many of those alternative strings about as far as they'll reach -- and besides, the jail would need to be replaced even if it wasn't going to be expanded.

The Daily Iowan reports this morning that the County Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, and others, are still at it. They're exploring the contributions to be made by an "expediter." It's worked in Scott County and is one easy way to reduce the demands on jails. It addresses the number of days an accused is jailed before coming to trial, with the "expediter" working with the county attorney and judges to shorten that time as much as possible. Colin Burke, "Officials Discuss Justice Center; Johnson County Law-Enforcement Officials Also Tell the Board of Supervisors About Possible Alternatives to Jail Time and Reforming the Justice Committee," The Daily Iowan, March 8, 2007.

Obviously, the inmate population is a flexible number. (1) What's defined as a "crime" can be altered -- especially with regard to non-violent, victimless crimes. (2) Whom law enforcement officers choose to arrest, and whom they merely warn, or ignore, is a variable. (3) As the expediter proposal illustrates, how long they stay in jail before trial can be shortened. (4) There are alternatives to incarceration, such as ankle bracelets for tracking, community service, and Sheriff Pulkrabek is exploring the possibility of their working on Johnson County facilities as a way of shortening jail time.

Some of those who have commented on these blog entries have made the point that we have done about as much of this sort of thing as we can in Johnson County.

And one has noted that there are not necessarily savings -- or at least not significant savings -- from putting people in a new Johnson County Jail rather than transporting them to neighboring jails. To the extent that's true, the total cost to the State and all 99 counties might be less from shifting excess jail population around, rather than building 99 county jails, each with sufficient capacity to handle the "peak load" jail population for that county.

Meanwhile, I had a conversation with a former state official with expertise in mental illness among the prison population. He tells me the "modal" prisoners (i.e., the largest group) are not necessarily "mentally ill" as that inexact phrase is usually used, but do have some qualities in common. They tend to be (1) relatively poorly educated and not among the brightest, (2) individuals who have suffered repeated head injuries, whether from falls, fights or motorcycle accidents, (3) addicted to drugs and alcohol, and (4) evidencing some anti-social or sociopathic behavior.

He said that one thing that seems to be working are "drug courts" and "mental illness courts" in conjunction with individuals who are able to talk the language with lawyers and judges, on the one hand, and doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists on the other. Of course, if some of what would otherwise be prison inmates are to be selected out as a result of this process, the program would need to be coupled with additional facilities and staff specifically qualified to deal with addicts or the mentally ill. Apparently Iowa is making some slow progress along this line, and I'm told Johnson County at least has the individual who can play the intermediary role.

Removing such persons from prison can help reduce the need to build additional prisons and jails, but it only increases the need to build other kinds of specialized facilities -- albeit, usually of much cheaper construction than prisons.

See also:

Editorial, "Mental-Health Spending Cuts Indefensible,"
The Daily Iowan, March 6, 2007

Drew Henning, "Mental-health money may be on the line," The Daily Iowan, March 6, 2007

Richard Doak, "Surge in prison population shows all is not well in Iowa," Des Moines Register, February 18, 2007

Melissa Walker, "Mental Health Cuts Would Hit Thousands," Des Moines Register, February 18, 2007

Editorial, "Direct Adequate Funds to Mental Health," Des Moines Register, February 20, 2007, with readers' letters

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UICCU and "Optiva"


Unless there is a major breaking story, there will be no more separate blog entries on this topic. The last entry may be revised from time to time and, if so, will indicate the date, time and nature of additions. See Nicholas Johnson, "UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007 (last entry, with links to prior entries October 2006 through March 2007)

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to FromDC2Iowa.Blogspot.com will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

See above.
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1 comment:

Prisoner said...

Prison Alternative... Hmmm... Check out www.gracetowne.blogspot.com